It always seems there’s something more to be done or something you’d really like to do… but sometimes the best thing to do is – pause and just look at things from a different perspective.
That’s what I did at the end of our market season in October. After a very busy season with many challenges, I booked a flight and a couple weeks off to travel east to Nova Scotia.
Flying over Ontario and Quebec I looked out the window at the landscape below. The last time I flew was almost six years ago… but, how things had changed! In our own neighbourhood, I’d seen the changes – at least from ground level.
Even so, I was still surprised at what I saw from the air. Not long ago, ten to fifteen acre fields were the norm in our neighbourhood. Now, most have been made into much larger fields. In fact, many 100 acre farms are now one large field with a house and yard in the middle. From above you can clearly see the altered patchwork.
Given the pressures and trends affecting farmers today it’s easy to understand why the landscape is changing so rapidy. Those larger fields offer significant time saving efficiencies for farm operators. They’re busy and the season’s short.
Are they too busy to see the costs?
On our family farm, I remember how the introduction of treelines and perennial grazing has changed things over the years. Before the trees there were no birds to sing and devour insect pests. The sun beat down upon the ground leaving no place of shade for the livestock to escape to. Wind blew across the land unimpeded. It was always windy, except for on the very calmest of days – rare exceptions. I’ve seen the changes.
From the air it’s easy to see the larger face of the rural landscape is also changing, and changing quickly. Growing field sizes follow the growing size of farm machinery to meet the needs of farmers to work ever larger acreages to sustain themselves on the land. As farm boundaries are erased, fewer people remain on the land to farm it. Farming no longer supports them. As the people leave, the communities wither and die.
In only a few short years fields have grown from 10 acres to 100 to hundreds of acres – corn and more corn. Beans and more beans…not a fence in sight…not a tree to break the path of the monster machines.
Monoculture… large monocultures…the pests come, disease sets in… the farmer gets anxious. The hundreds of acres, unbroken fields now make it easy for pests to multiply and disease to spread just as freely as the beloved monster machine that enabled the new efficiency. The farmer no longer sleeps so soundly as mold threatens his crops, pests move in. He sprays. He prays. He asks for aid.
The buyer he counts on – the trader, looks elsewhere. It costs him no more. Volume is his game. Interchangeable supply and large volume – that’s where the trader’s value lies. The trader finds his value elsewhere.
Meanwhile, this past year from our small acreage we had over 40 different products on offer. We faced the same challenges of a late cold spring and unsual weather pattern. Some varieties didn’t produce well. Others were much less affected. I was glad we don’t grow such large monocultures.
My little two wheeled tractor is just the size I need for my little field tucked in next to some old Maples and Spruce where birds make their homes. We too, need volume to cover our costs, but it seems you, our buyers, want something more.
Freshness, variety, flavour and free of pesticides… this value we seek to deliver. We do it with a different kind of farming.
This is the kind of farming
where birds sing as we pluck peas from the vines.
with 40 different vegetable varieties growing within less than two acres.
where fencelines are needed to keep the deer from feasting on the harvest. (They know what’s good!)
where diversity works to reduce risks and promote soil health
that aims to produce healthy food free of pesticides.
The scene I witnessed from the air provided a stark revelation of the impacts of different farming approaches. Clearly there’s a hidden value in sustainable farming practises. Its trees, fencelines and diverse populations are obstacles to the monster machines, but bigger is not always better and uniformity is not always the best thing. Just as human communities need people in many different roles to really thrive, eco-communities aren’t so different.
There’s value in diversity within living systems that make them work better. It’s easy to miss and easier to notice when its gone. What does it look like on a store shelf? Market stand? Or produce box?
Maybe it takes a new vantage point to see what we’re getting… how little choices and individual actions are making changes happen, on a larger scale.
As you pause your regular routines to celebrate the holidays, we hope you won’t be too busy to see hidden value in little things – good health, support of family and friends, time together – and abundant food. When you consider it, those little things don’t seem quite that little.
Thank you and Merry Christmas from all of us at Green Hart Farms.